Livelihood from growing potatoes

Amidst a large and noisy crowd at the auction yard, Phub Gyeltshen, 46, looks nervous. As the potatoes are put to grading machines, the farmer keeps a keen eye on the labourers.

The farmer from Gangphey in Phobjikha, Wangdiphodrang has brought the first stock of potatoes at the Food Corporation of Bhutan Limited’s (FCBL) auction yard in Phuentsholing.

He has two truckloads. In another few days, Phub Gyeltshen would pocket about Nu 700,000.

“I will be able to run my home for a year,” he said, adding he would also be able to pay his loan, which he had taken for his house construction.

Back home, Phub Gyeltshen said, two truckloads of potatoes are waiting for him.

Last year, he made about Nu 450,000.

The farmer said that during years when prices are high, a truckload of potatoes would sometime earn him Nu 400,000.

Farmers are currently fetching Nu 28 to Nu 36 per kg.

For a change, Phub Gyeltshen is also opting for the online auction process. With the online auction system in place, farmers can bring their produce without segregating at source.

Segregation at source is a costly affair, as farmers have to pay Nu 350 to Nu 400 per day per person with free food.

In the online auction, potatoes are segregated by the three grading machines at the yard. A standard packaging is also done before floating the auctions online. There are more than 10 traders who bid their rates online.

Another potato grower, Ugyen Norbu said Phub Gyeltshen is a very hard-working man.

“He brings the highest harvest among us,” he said.

Every year, potato farmers from across the country bring their produce at the auction yard in Phuentsholing. Farmers from Phobjikha buy flour, rice, and other necessities. Some drive back home new vehicles. “If you work, there is money in agriculture,” said Phub Gyeltshen.

Get into agriculture

Encouraged by the returns he got this year, the farmer said youth should get into agriculture, especially cash crops.

“You can live a decent life in the village. The youth today are always after government jobs,” he said. “They are always thinking for big.”

In Gangphey, a youth would even make Nu 400 to Nu 500 per day working in others’ fields during potato season, Phub Gyeltshen said.

Small salaries don’t motivate youth these days, the farmer said, explaining they need to work hard and take anything in the initial days.

“Unless your parents are rich, you have to work hard. There is no replacement for it,” he said.

Phub Gyeltshen cannot recall the first time he brought potatoes for auction to Phuentsholing. “It feels like it was yesterday,” he said, explaining a lot has changed in this trade.

“We used to get paid very less before but the value of money was really high,” he said.

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